The Legend of the Hindenburg

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When one thinks of airships, the image that leaps to many people’s minds is that of D-LZ129, better known as the Hindenburg, consumed by flames to cries of “Oh, the humanity!” The tragic events of May 6th, 1937 are considered the end of the airship era; many know about the death of the Hindenburg, but what about the life of the two Hindenburg-class airships, the LZ129 and her sister LZ130?

Hindenburg 680

The naming of the Hindenburg-class airship actually came from the Nazi Party after they bailed Luftschiffbau Zeppelin from bankruptcy to finish construction of the LZ129. As part of the agreement Luftschiffbau Zeppelin was also forced to display the swastikas on the tail fins. The Hindenburg’s namesake was Germany’s second president, Paul von Hindenburg, who was in office from 1925 to 1934. Despite his dislike of Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Hindenburg bowed to increased pressure and appointed him Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Two years before the first flight of the LZ129, Hindenburg died at the age of 86 from lung cancer on August 2nd, 1934. Two hours after Hindenburg’s death, Hitler enacted a new law that merge the roles of president and chancellor; Hitler now had absolute control over Germany. 

Hindenburg SizeBuilt to an all-duralumin design the Hindenburg-class were widely considered the future of air travel. The duralumin frame was covered by cotton cloth varnished with iron oxide and cellulose acetate butyrate impregnated with aluminium powder. The aluminium was added to reflect both ultraviolet, which damaged the fabric, and infrared light, which caused heating of the gas. The doping compound for the outer fabric covering of Graf Zeppelin had bronze and graphite added to prevent flammability and improve the outer covering’s electrical conductivity. Both ships were 245 m (804 ft) long and 41 m (135 ft) in diameter, longer than three Boeing 747s placed end-to-end, longer than four Goodyear GZ-20 “blimps” end-to-end, and only 24 m (79 ft) shorter than the RMS Titanic.

Hindenburg Plans

The Hindenburg-class was a rigid airship comprised of a series of Ferris wheel sized structures, 15 of which were gas cell boundaries which formed bulkheads. Hydrogen was vented out through valves on the top of the ship and these valves could be controlled both manually and automatically. Alongside the keel were water ballast and fuel tanks. The tail fins of the airship were over 100 ft (30 m) in length, and were held together with a cross-like structure. The lower tail fin also had an auxiliary control room in case the controls in the gondola malfunctioned. Four reversible 890 kW (1,190 hp) Daimler-Benz diesel engines powered the Hindenburg with a maximum speed of 135 km/h (84 mph). 

Hindenburg made her first flight on March 4th, 1936, but her first month was spent operating propaganda missions, alongside LZ127 Graf Zeppelindropping leaflets, playing music, and making radio broadcasts about Hitler’s Chancellorship and remilitarization of the Rhineland. March 31st, 1936 saw the Hindenburg enact its intended purpose as a passenger ship with the first of seven round trips to Rio de Janeiro. Together with ten round trips to New York, Hindenburg covered 308,323 km (191,583 mi) that year with 2,798 passengers and 160 tons of freight and mail.

Hindenburg 680On May 6th, 1937, when the Hindenburg exploded into flames 36 people died in the incident: 22 crewmen, 13 passengers, and 1 ground worker. 62 people aboard the Hindenburg actually survived, 64% of the 97 people on the flight, 1526 less deaths than that of the Titanic disaster, but the image of the Hindenburg destroyed in a ball of fire was enough to shake the public’s faith in airships. Three years later, at the order of Hermann Göring, LZ130 Graf  Zeppelin II was scrapped and the age of the airship was truly over . . . for now at least.

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